Cataloging Your Classroom Library and What You Can Learn from It

Today, I celebrate the fact that out of this whole school year, only four of my classroom library’s books have not been returned. I’m happy about this number because I have around 800 books in my library, and to have a loss of only four books (0.5%) is something to celebrate.

Before I go further, you should know that I obsess over my library. Out of the 800 books I have, most of them were supplied by me, and I paid full price for very few of them. In fact, many of them were acquired for free from Jersey City Free Books, an organization led by Anthony Olzewski. A bunch of them were ordered from Thrift Books, and then a lot of them were from my own personal library from before I started reading. More recently, I acquired about 40 books from Act 2 Books in Englishtown, NJ for just $8.

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This catalog was automatically generated by BookSource, I’ve spent a lot of time copying and pasting summaries from GoodReads so students don’t have to leave the site to learn about their choices.

When a student finds a book they might be interested, they click on it and it turns around to reveal a summary and other information. For example, when a student clicks on A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah, they see this:

Sign-Out Sheets

In the past, I’d done paper sign out sheets, but I was never great at keeping track of them. I tried keeping it out by my bookshelves, but the paper was torn and I couldn’t read the kids’ writing. I tried keeping it in a binder, but then fewer kids checked out books because it was such a hassle.

At first, I tried using a Google Doc. However, students often entered book titles incorrectly, and it wasn’t as useful as it could have been. Finally, I found BookSource, a classroom library application that I’d highly recommend.

BookSource: Very Useful, Kind of Annoying Sometimes

Entering your books into BookSource is kind of a pain, and sometimes annoying. Each book has to be entered using the ISBN. Many books do not have cover images, which can deter students from finding out more about those books. I believe BookSource does have an iOS app, but it limits you to just 50 barcode scans, which allows you to scan barcodes for quicker entry into the system.

There are also some functionalities that just aren’t there. For example, all books must be entered as Fiction or Nonfiction. There’s no exception for poetry, which doesn’t really exist in either space.

Another sort of annoying aspect of BookSource is that you can’t enter or change subjects; only books that BookSource is familiar with (sells through their catalog) will have subjects appropriated for them. There’s no way to enter subjects through the mass upload Excel spreadsheet either.

The other thing that BookSource hasn’t gotten together yet is its student-ended search. Through the mobile browser, searching for books can be clunky. You can search for “Suzanne Collins,” and it will come up as “No Results Found” because it wasn’t formatted as, “Collins, Suzanne.” When a “No Results Found” page comes up, students must click back to search again. If they click the search button on the top, they will continue to find no results.

There’s also no “Sort” function. When students log in, they see all books in alphabetical order by title. They can’t sort by genre or any other measure. Thus, finding books can be kind of difficult sometimes, especially for students who aren’t so tech savvy. As in the image above, there’s no reason why A Long Way from Chicago, a novel, should be next to A Long Way Gone, a memoir, which is next to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It just makes no sense.

The Benefits of BookSource

Although there are some annoying aspects of BookSource, I still think it’s worth it. First, there doesn’t seem to be another competitor that offers so much functionality for free. Furthermore, the site gives you a ton of information and charts, such as the checkout history of a given book, reading levels of books (although this seems to only apply to books purchased or sold through BookSource). You can also view students’ checkout history to get a good idea of students’ preferences.

Finally, I think it’s a great place to build a reader’s community. When students are finished reading a book, they can leave a review. I prefer this to posting reviews on blogs, GoodReads, or Amazon, because student identities and reviews exist only within the class.

To make it easier for students, I’ve posted a link to BookSource on Schoology, as well as posted a QR code by my bookshelves.

This year, I’ve had 440 books checked out (I had 79 students). That comes out to almost 6 books per student. My most frequently checked out books (excluding those signed out for the dystopian book club unit) were The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas (10) and Hey, Kiddo, by Jarret J. Krosoczka (9).

Other popular books were Dear Martin, by Ric Stone (6), The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui (5, although I saw this exchange hands quite often, so the number should be higher), The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger (5), The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (5).

What We Can Learn from This Information

We can get some really useful information here. I think it’s pretty telling what’s on the kids’ minds when the most signed out books are those related to marginalized characters and social justice. I should note, however, that my most frequently checked out books were those that I talked up and recommended. I can’t tell you how many times I’d recommended Hey, Kiddo, Persepolis, or The Best We Could Do.

Student interest in Hey, Kiddo spiked particularly after I’d done a book talk for it on YouTube (an assignment for college).

As you can also see from the data sheet, the classics are still fairly popular. In an age where we’re questioning the validity or quality of classics like The Catcher in the Rye (rich white boy problems), The Great Gatsby (rich white people problems), and To Kill a Mocking Bird (white saviors), students are seeking these books out to find out for themselves what these books are all about. They’re also aware, however, that these books are taught in high school, and my “accelerated” students tend to try to get ahead.

In the next year, I’d like to do more book talks, as this seems to have a positive effect on book acquisition. In addition, I’d also like to read more excerpts from books, as this seems to make an immediate, but short-lived difference. For example, after reading a short excerpt from Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, I immediately had a student check that book out.

What Didn’t Work

I spent quite a bit of time this year creating thematic displays on my bookshelves. For example, during Black History Month I’d displayed modern and classical novels that would appeal to the month, but not many of those books ever got checked out during the month. During Poetry Month, I, too, displayed some notable poetry books, but they were checked out very infrequently, if at all. I’m not sure why these displays didn’t encourage kids to sign them out–maybe they just liked the way they looked? In fact, as popular as The Hate U Give was with 10 checkouts throughout the year, none of those checkouts were from when it was on display in Black History Month.

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2 thoughts on “Cataloging Your Classroom Library and What You Can Learn from It

  1. Sean Patterson says:

    Thanks for the feedback Mr. Chiappone. You brought up some good points. We are currently overhauling many of the pages in Classroom Organizer which will address a lot of issues you had.
    For the genres you can add additional genres of your own on the Settings page. These are totally up to you, but you are correct that you cannot add “subjects”. We are looking into the idea of allowing crowd sourced subjects/genres.
    As far as Fiction/Nonfiction for poetry, I reached out to our Collection Development team and they indicated that we classify poetry as either fiction or nonfiction depending on the contents.
    Regarding the iOS app limiting scans, I reached out to our lead IT engineer and he doesn’t think it should be limiting you to 50 scans. If this is a real issue please let me know and we will look into it ASAP. The scans should be unlimited.
    In the student area – you are absolutely right we have a lot of improvement to make. The search is too specific for students, I agree. We are working on that part. We are also working on providing more robust sorting/filtering/categorization for the student area as well so it isn’t just alphabetical.
    Again, thank you so much for your feedback. The fact you took the time to write all of this just shows how much thought you have put into your feedback. I wanted to let you know it didn’t go unheard!
    Thanks,
    Sean Patterson
    Product Manager – Classroom Organizer
    Booksource

    Like

    • kchiapponeteaches says:

      Hi Sean Patterson. Thank you for such a thoughtful response! I’m glad to hear that you’re working on student functionality. I don’t have my iPad on me (summer break), but I’ll update that part to reflect your information. I may not have said it enough, but I do love the classroom organizer. It’s by far the best online classroom library. I hope there are plans to keep it free.

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